Last week was a pretty stressful week for me at my new job. I worked very long days, long into the evening. I was exhausted, frustrated, and a little bit frantic as I tried to juggle my priorities, including not totally ignoring my adorable dog, Zoey. I ate fast meals (and sometime not-so-healthy fast food), often sitting at my laptop. I knew I was struggling. And then, a friend asked me how I was. My answer? Busy. With that single word, my brain came to a screeching halt.
I absolutely abhor when someone answers the question “How are you?” with “Busy.” It is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I am of the opinion that people make time for what they want and “busy” is as an excuse for not doing something.
More than that, far too often, busy is tossed out as a humble brag. Being busy seems to imply that you are so in demand, so indispensable, and somehow, it also subtly implies that you are “busier” than the person to whom you are talking.
Busy-ness is a sickness. Furthermore, busy-ness is a sickness of our own making. We crave being busy. We are afraid of being idle. We are afraid of just being—of being caught doing nothing. We present this busy-ness to the world, and we want sympathy. We want people to be impressed. I have ranted and lamented about this for years, and I was definitely not prepared to hear the words “I’m busy!” come out of my mouth.
When I heard myself say the word busy, it stopped me in my tracks. We know that trying to accomplish too much in too little time leads to stress. We know that stress has negative health effects. But we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t take just a little bit of pride in being busy. It makes us feel useful and important. Being busy can help us succeed. However, we can still be successful, can still be useful and important without packing our schedules and then declaring how busy we are.
Frustrated with myself for falling into this trap, I did some research into the subject. I came across an article about someone who tried floating in a sensory deprivation tank to help come to terms with the concept of doing nothing. I found this quote particularly profound:
“In order to really thrive in the best version of yourself possible, [you] need to carve out little pockets of nothingness from the regular programming of busy-ness.
All this busy-ness keeps us from reflecting and prioritizing, which are needed for good health—both mental and physical.
I hold fast to my belief that people make time for what they want to make time for, but now, perhaps I’m a little more cognizant of how easy it is to fall into the busy-ness trap.
As health communicators, especially for those of you who are health care providers, this is a conversation we should have. Rather than medication or other strategies designed to minimize stress, when that stress is the age old “too much to do and not enough time,” we should be talking about how to be even just a little less busy. Trust me, you have time for that.